Early Baptists of Philadelphia, 1877
by David Spencer
CITY PASTORS RESIDING IN THE COUNTRY.—FRANKFORD BAPTIST CHURCH CONSTITUTED.—MEETING-HOUSE ERECTED.—CENTENNIAL ANNIVERSARY OF PHILADELPHIA ASSOCIATION.—CHRONOLOGICAL LIST OF CHURCHES.—SECOND BAPTIST CHURCH INCORPORATED.—JOHN P. CROZER.—WAYSIDE EFFORTS.—THIRD BAPTIST CHURCH CONSTITUTED.—IMPOSITION OF HANDS.—FIFTEEN HUNDRED DOLLARS AND PARSONAGE.—CLOSE SUPERVISION AND STRICT DISCIPLINE.—PROHIBITION OF SOCIETY FUNERALS.—FIRST AFRICAN BAPTIST CHURCH CONSTITUTED.—HOUSE FOR BAPTISMAL OCCASIONS.—MISSIONARY SOCIETY EXTENDING ITS LABORS.
IT is sometimes regarded as a modern innovation for city pastors to reside, even during the summer time, out in the country. Dr. Staughton, when pastor of the First Church, in the summer season frequently lived some miles away. Thus in 18o9 he resided in Germantown. In August, 1807, he writes, “We have this summer a beautiful situation, four miles from Philadelphia.” The great demands made upon pastors of prominent city churches by visitors having every conceivable object in view, not only germain to the minister’s work, but also entirely foreign thereto, are simply fearful, and when it is possible to secure a home for a pastor at a distance from the church, an improvement in pulpit efforts is generally the result.
On the 24th of May, 1807, twenty-four members were dismissed from the Second Church to constitute the Frankford Baptist Church of this city. Their names were, Thomas Gilbert, Mary Gilbert, Joseph Gilkey, John Rorer, William Phillips, Mary Phillips, J. P. Skelton, Maria Skelton, Isaac Reed, Elizabeth A. Reed, John Chipman, Elizabeth Chipman, John Dainty, Mary Dainty, James Clark, Mary Clark, Benjamin James, Sarah Lyons, Esther Gordon, Margaret Kildare, Hannah Cottman, Leah Cottman, Francis Sellers, Phebe Davis. Six other persons, baptized by Rev. Thomas Montayne, were also regarded as constituent members.
Among the pioneer laborers in Frankford were Revs. John Ellis, T. B. Montayne, William Staughton, D. D., Samuel Jones, D. D., William Rogers, D. D., and William White.
The above little band, having no house of worship in which to gather, were constituted into a church in a part of Nature’s temple known as “Smith’s Woods,” situated on the Asylum Road. Here, also, they first celebrated the Lord’s supper, and on June 13, 1807, in a stream near by, three converts, Margaret Rees, Mary Coon and Dinah Thomas, were baptized. In July of the same year a lot of ground was purchased at the corner of Pine and Edwards streets for $166.66, and a substantial stone meeting-house erected thereon. In October following, the church united with the Philadelphia Association, which rendered material aid in supplying them with preaching for about two years. In 1808 an effort was made to obtain an Act of Incorporation, but for some unaccountable reason it was not obtained until 1824.
We come now to the centennial anniversary of the Philadelphia Association. One hundred years had passed since, in a small frame structure on Second street, it had been organized with only five churches, and the only body of the kind on the continent. It met in this city on the identical spot where it was formed, October 6th, 7th, and 8th, Its founders had all gone to their reward, but the work they had commenced had been carried gloriously forward. Instead of the one Association of a century ago, there were now ninety-two in the country, while the number of Baptist churches in the land had increased to nearly two thousand, and the aggregate membership to about one hundred and forty thousand. The century sermon was preached by Rev. Samuel Jones, D. D., from the text, Isaiah 2:3. “Enlarge the place of thy tents, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thy habitation. Spare not, lengthen thy cords and strengthen thy stakes, for thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left.” The. sermon is published in the minutes of the Association, and is a valuable document, by one of the most useful and honored fathers of our denomination. His services in the cause of Christ were laborious, timely and successful. An educated man himself, he was an educator in a noble sense, and to this day his influence is felt for good in many ways.
In 1807, the Association numbered thirty-nine churches with an aggregate of 3632 members. The following table exhibits the names of all the churches admitted to the Association during the first hundred years of its history, the county and state in which the churches are located, with the date of their admission to the Association:—
From the above table we learn that Philadelphia was the great centre for the churches in all the region round about. From Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia they came during the first hundred years of its existence, to be identified with it.
By an act of the Legislature of Pennsylvania, passed in 1809, the Second Baptist Church was regularly incorporated.
There have been born in Philadelphia many who in after years were honored of God in doing a great work for him. So there have been baptized into the churches of this city persons whose names have become household words and whose memories will be fragrant to the latest hour of time. Among these is the name of John P. Crozer, who with his sister Sarah, was baptized in the Schuylkill river, at half-past twelve o’clock on Saturday, April 9th, 1808, by Rev. William Staughton, D. D., and united with the First Baptist Church. Mr. Crozer was now only fifteen years of age, having been born January 13th, 1793. The circumstances of his conversion are thus given in the beautiful language of his biographer, Rev. J. Wheaton Smith, D. D., “On the farm adjoining his (J. P. Crozer’s) father’s lived an estimable family by the name of Pennock. On the death of a daughter in their household—a lovely Christian young woman, who was the intimate friend of Elizabeth, the sister of John,—Dr. Staughton came from Philadelphia to preach the funeral sermon. The neighbors and friends assembled at the house of the Pennocks, where the service was held. Under the influence of this and a few following discourses at the same place a number of persons were converted, among whom were John and his sister Sarah.
“Little did the excellent Staughton think, as he stood that day under the low ceiling of a farm-house room, looking around him upon the little company of neighbors and friends seated; upon chairs and benches, that there sat among the boys a plain but thoughtful lad, not yet fifteen years old, who was to be one of the brightest jewels in the crown of his future rejoicing—one who would hew out a way to opulence and extended usefulness, becoming the benefactor of the poor, the friend of the ‘feebleminded,’ the patron of learning, and the steadfast supporter of religion. Often in after years the full, round tones of this princely preacher rung out upon the ears of the multitude which thronged his ministry in the old round meeting-house in Sansom Street; but never, perhaps, were they heard so far as when he spoke in the farm-house kitchen. As he arose, the hopes of future colleges and schools hung trembling on his words Ethiopia was stretching out her hands to God in the prayer of that simple service; and the silver bells of Burman pagodas hung hushed and tremulous to the songs of praise.
“Brethren in the ministry of Jesus, let us take a lesson. Our wayside efforts may prove our best. A sermon in a country town, a friendly talk on the dusty path of travel, a word of counsel in some desolate household of the poor, may yield the crowning blessing of our earthly lives.”
In the business meeting of the First Church, August 7, 1809, “the following letter was presented from a number of brethren, in Southwark, requesting to be dismissed in order to form a new church of our Lord Jesus Christ”:—
This is to certify that we, whose names are hereunto subscribed, have taken into consideration how desirable it would be for the Baptist cause to be extended in this city and established in Southwark, and, after due deliberation, do believe no plan more eligible could be concerted to bring about the erection of a Baptist meeting-house in Southwark than for a sufficient number of brethren and sisters unitedly to agree to be constituted into a regular church of Jesus Christ, under the name of the Third Baptist Church of Philadelphia.
We, therefore, after all due consideration, do solicit of the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia, of which we respectively stand members, a letter of dismission for the purpose of being constituted an independent church of Christ, under the name above mentioned.
We would not have any of our brethren harbor a thought that our request arises from any disaffection on our parts, nor from a wish to leave the church of which we are members from any other consideration than the advancement of the Redeemer’s interest. Hoping this, our resolution, will meet your cordial approbation, and that when such a measure, with your concurrence and assistance, may be entered into, there may exist the utmost harmony and Christian love is the prayer of yours in a precious Redeemer.
Samuel Oakford, Hannah Bacon, Elizabeth Van Blunk, Richard Van Blunk, Annie Elberson, Mary Cane, Isaac Bacon, Elizabeth Merwine, Benjamin Thomson, Rachel Barber, Mary Robinson, Richard Johnson, Anna Clark, Sarah Barnet, James Naglee, Sarah Cox, Sarah James, John P. Peckworth, Jane Peckworth, Enoch Reynolds, John McCleod, Eliza McCleod, Lewis Baldwin, William Robinson, Jehu Milnor, John Cox.
This very kindly request was unanimously granted, and on Wednesday, August 23rd, they were constituted in the First Baptist meeting-house as the Third Baptist Church. The early custom of imposition of hands on the newly baptized continued to be practiced in the First Church, under the ministry of Dr. Staughton. Under date of April 3, 1809, it is recorded:—
John Kidwell having been baptized and expecting shortly to sail, was received by the imposition of hands, and then received the right hand of fellowship.
So prosperous had the church become that the month following the above record they were able to pledge to their pastor fifteen hundred dollars and the free use of the parsonage. While the church then, as since, was always disposed to do liberal things for their pastor, they had never previously been able to give so large a salary.
It is impossible to peruse the minutes of the churches all through the early days without being impressed with the strict discipline that was maintained by them. The utmost care was exercised in the reception of members; the closest supervision was maintained over all connected with the church, and any dereliction, or wandering, or infidelity was vigorously attended to. Everyone seemed to feel that there was a difference between a member of church and a non-professor.
It is an old and familiar adage that times change. At the present day we are impressed with this as we read a record like the following in the minutes of the First Church, under date of June 26, 1809:—
On motion it was resolved, that in future there shall not be any funeral in military order, that is, with arms or martial music. Funerals in Masonic order are also prohibited in our burial ground. Our sexton is desired to attend to the above resolution.
After much discussion and perplexity it was now felt that the time had fully come for the organization of an African Baptist church in this city; accordingly, under date of June 12, 1809, in the minutes of the First Church, “the following letter, dated May 13, 1809, was received from brethren of Color”:—
We, whose names are here written, are desirous of obtaining our letters of dismission from the First Baptist Church in Philadelphia for the purpose of becoming a distinct church of the Lord Jesus.
John Harris, Jane Simmonds, Sarah Johnson, Edward Simmonds, Hannah Cole, Zilpha Rhees, Samuel Johnson, Nancy Cole, Sarah Bartley, Sarah Harris, Phillis Dorcas, Jane Riddle, Betsey Jackson.
This request was complied with, and on June 19th, it was
Resolved, That this church give our brethren of color the use of this house on Thursday, the 29th inst., for the purpose of being, with members from other churches, constituted and organized into a regular church state.
It was further Resolved, That our brethren Staughton, Rogers, Peckworth and Ingels be a committee to assist our brethren of color in their constitution.
The church subsequently aided, very materially, this new organization.
July 9, 1810, the First Church authorized the erection of a two-story brick building, 32 by 18 feet, at a cost of $1,100, on the lot at Spruce street and the Schuylkill river, for baptismal occasions.
The Missionary Society of our city continued to extend its labors, and met with cheering results. October 5, 1810, the Secretary, Rev. Dr. Staughton, wrote as follows:
The Philadelphia Baptist Missionary Society announces with pleasure to the churches and to the public that there are seven missionaries at the present time in their service. Bro. Thomas G. Jones is engaged in the tract of country near the dividing line of the states of Ohio and Pennsylvania. Bro. Thomas Smiley on the western waters of the Susquehanna. Bro. Henry George is laboring on the waters of the Owl Creek, in the Ohio state; and Bro. William West on the margin of Lake Erie and the country adjacent. Bro. Montayne for two months in the year has been, and continues engaged in the small towns on the Delaware and in other parts of Bucks and Northampton counties, Pennsylvania. Brethren Bateman and Cooper, whose appointments originated at the present meeting, have their tours assigned them in parts of West Jersey where the gospel is never or seldom preached,-excepting that Bro. Bateman is instructed to devote a part of his time in Pennsylvania. The information received from the Missionaries is peculiarly encouraging; a holy zeal for the spread of the Redeemer’s kingdom among us, we trust, is greatly reviving. It is hoped the churches generally will catch and retain the sacred flame, and that (to use the words of our Bro. Carey) we may be assisted to “expect great things and attempt great things.”
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